Est_9:27-28. The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these too days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year; and that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.
IT has been observed of the Book of Esther, that the name of God is not in it: and certainly there is not the same strain of piety pervading it as is found in the Book of Nehemiah. This perhaps may be accounted for from the circumstance of its having been written in the court of Persia, where Jehovah, the God of Israel, was not known or acknowledged. But though in this point of view it may appear more like to a mere record of facts, it does in reality contain as striking a display of God’s providence as any book in the inspired volume. In explaining the feast of Purim, spoken of in our text, we must of necessity bring before you all the most leading facts recorded in the whole book; though we shall of course notice them only so far as they throw light on our main subject.
We shall consider,
The feast itself—
It is called the feast of Purim, in reference to a lot which was cast (the word Pur signifying a lot), and which had a very principal effect in the preservation of all the Jewish people throughout the Persian dominions. But in speaking of the feast, we will distinctly state,
The occasion on which it was instituted—
[Human, the prime minister and favourite of King Ahasuerus, was offended with Mordecai a Jew, who had refused to pay him that homage which the king had enjoined to be paid him by all his courtiers. Indignant at this supposed insult, Human sought to avenge himself, not on Mordecai alone, but on all the Jews throughout the empire. For this end, he cast a lot to determine on what day he should execute this design against them; and, having fixed the day in his own mind, obtained an order from the king that every one of them, old and young, women and children, should be put to death, and their property be delivered over as a prey to their destroyers. The Jews, informed of the edict, betook themselves to fasting and prayer: and God, in answer to their prayer, wrought a wonderful deliverance for them, and enabled them to execute upon their enemies the very evils which they themselves had been previously doomed to suffer [Note: ver. 1.]. It might have been expected indeed, when the king, at the request of Esther, had given liberty to the Jews to stand in their own defence, that their enemies would have abstained from any attempt against them, more especially when it was seen that the rulers of the different provinces favoured the Jews: but, as Human had been hanged on the very gallows which he had erected for Mordecai, and thus had fallen the first sacrifice to his own devices, his surviving friends were determined at their own peril to carry into execution his cruel design: but God so strengthened the Jews, that they prevailed in the contest, and slew in one day no less than seventy-five thousand of their enemies, besides five hundred in the very palace of Shushan, and, on the day following, three hundred more. In commemoration of this glorious event, the feast of Purim was instituted: and from that day to the present hour it is kept, wherever there is a body of Jews to join in the celebration of it.]
The manner of its observance—
[We doubt not but that it was observed with pious gratitude: for though nothing is spoken of that, we may be well assured that the same piety which had enjoined a fast of three days to obtain the blessing, enjoined thanksgivings also, when the blessing was obtained.
But it was to be celebrated also with festive mirth. This is by no means incompatible with pious exercises, or unfit to be united with them on such an occasion as that. God himself had ordered three great feasts to be annually kept, in remembrance of his mercies; the feast of the passover, in remembrance of the deliverance of the Jewish first-born from the sword of the destroying angel; the feast of weeks, in remembrance of the promulgation of the Law from Mount Sinai; and the feast of tabernacles, in remembrance of their dwelling in tents in the wilderness [Note: Deu_16:16.]: and these sufficiently shew that our animal nature may participate in the joys which belong more particularly to our higher and better part, provided we keep within the strict rules of temperance, and enjoy the Donor in his gifts.
A special direction also was given, that the feast should be kept with active benevolence: the richer were not only to send portions to each other, but to provide for the poor also, who could not otherwise be partakers of the general joy. This was a very essential part of the institution, and highly proper to be observed; since we ought then more particularly to shew love to our brethren, when we are commemorating God’s love to us. This union of piety, festivity, and love, may be seen in the feast which Nehemiah made for the people, when Ezra expounded to them the law of God [Note: Neh_8:10; Neh_8:12.]: and it were to be wished that we, in the feasts instituted for the commemoration of still richer blessings, were careful never to separate what God in his ordinances has so plainly joined together.]
The very particular injunctions given by Esther, and Mordecai, and all the principal Jews, respecting the perpetual observance of this feast, lead us naturally to inquire into,
The ends and reasons for which it was appointed—
It doubtless was designed,
As a memorial of God’s goodness to them—
[It was right to keep up, as far as possible, the remembrance of this mercy to all future generations. We are but too apt to forget the goodness of God to us: and we need occasional observances commemorative of them, in order to revive in our minds the impressions, which the first communication of his blessings excited in us. It was on this principle that God appointed a number of days to be kept holy under the Law; and for the same end is the ordinance of the Lord’s supper appointed under the Gospel; “Do this in remembrance of me: for as oft as ye shall eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew forth the Lord’s death, till he come.” On the same principle the Fathers of our Church have set apart certain days for the special contemplation of those mysteries, on which the salvation of the whole world depends; the incarnation, the death, the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In truth, the Jews in all ages are equally interested in this event; since, if the design of Human had been carried into effect, the whole posterity of all the Jews in that immense empire would have been cut off in one day: and consequently they, as much as their remoter ancestors, are bound to “keep God’s great goodness to them ever in remembrance.”]
As an incentive to love and serve him—
[Commandments have but little effect, where love does not exist towards the authority that enjoined them. It is love alone that will constrain us to a willing and unreserved obedience even to God himself. Hence St. Paul urges us “by the mercies of God to yield ourselves as living sacrifices unto him;” for it is a sense of them only that will enable us to regard such a surrender of ourselves to him as “a reasonable service [Note: Rom_12:1.].” Now certainly the contemplation of this great deliverance could not but deeply affect the hearts of all, and stir them up to glorify their adorable Benefactor. And though, alas! at this time the feast is made only an occasion of intemperance amongst all who observe it, yet it ought to excite far other sentiments than those of carnal mirth, and to stimulate to far other conduct than that of riot and excess.]
As an encouragement to trust in God—
[In this view it may well be a feast to the whole world. For where can we find, except in the history of Joseph, so striking an exhibition of the ways of Providence, as in the history before us? Even long before the wicked thought was conceived in the heart of Haman did God in a most singular manner exalt Esther to the throne, that she might be able to counteract and defeat his purpose: and he enabled Mordecai also to detect and reveal a conspiracy against the life of the monarch, that he might afterwards have the influence that was necessary for the final preservation of the Jewish people. When Haman had conceived the purpose, he superstitiously “cast a lot from month to month, and from day to day,” to determine the best time for carrying it into effect: and behold God, “with whom alone the disposal of the lot rests,” so ordered it, that the lot should fall on the very last month, and on the thirteenth day of that month; so that there was abundant time for making the people sensible of their danger, and for accomplishing their deliverance. That the king should have a sleepless night might appear a very trivial accident; yet in the divine counsels it was an important link in the chain of his purposes, since it led to the exaltation of Mordecai at the very moment when Haman was prepared to put him to death. In a word, the courage with which Esther was inspired to go in, uncalled for, to the king, the readiness of the king to hear and answer her requests, the versatility of the courtiers, the jealousy of the king, together with many other circumstances, all led to the immediate overthrow of Haman, and the consequent deliverance of the Jewish people. How remarkable was it, that Haman himself, and afterwards his ten sons also, should be hanged on that very gallows which had been prepared by Haman for Mordecai; and that, instead of the Jews being put to death, they by the king’s own authority should destroy seventy-five thousand of their enemies, besides eight hundred in the very palace of the king! All this shews, how impossible it is to fight successfully against God, and how safe they are, who put their trust under the shadow of his wings. Truly, if God be for us, we need not be concerned how many there may be against us; for “mightier is He that is in us, than he that is in the world.” Only let us trust in him, and not a hair of our head shall perish.]
To those who make a profession of religion—
[You must expect, as in the days of old, that the “enmity which exists between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman” will yet shew itself, and that “they who are born after the flesh will persecute those who are born after the Spirit.” As you differ from the world in the laws which you obey, and in the habits you maintain, you must expect to be represented by them as enemies both to the Church and State [Note: Est_3:8.]. But commit your cause to God, and he will preserve you. Your enemies may rage; but “no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” There is an efficacy in fervent prayer, that shall bring Omnipotence to our aid: and though your trials may be great and of long continuance, yet shall they issue in more abundant joy to you, and honour to your God.]
To those who shew hostility to the people of God—
[You little think whom it is that you revile and persecute: “He that hateth you hateth me,” says our Lord; and again, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me!” The people of God are regarded by him as “his first-fruits,” which, being the Lord’s property, no man was at liberty to consume: be assured therefore, that “all who shall devour them will offend; (i. e. will stumble;) and evil will come upon them [Note: Jer_2:2.].” It were “better for you to have a millstone put about your neck, and to be cast into the sea, than that you should offend one of his little ones.” Let the history before us suffice to shew you, that “whose toucheth them, toucheth the apple of Jehovah’s eye.”]
To those who in the midst of a persecuting world have been preserved—
[Know to whom you owe it, that you have not been given up as a prey into the hands of your enemies. The agency of God’s providence is secret, so that you behold it not: but you reap the benefit of it, and will at a future day see as striking interpositions in your favour as those which are recorded in the history before us. Go on then, serving the Lord without fear, and multiply your services for him as he multiplies his mercies unto you.]